And You Don’t Want To Go Back to “Normal”
Like many of you, I am devastated by the impact that the global pandemic is having on women, especially women of color. It seems each week we read about thousands of women leaving the workforce because the jobs they held have been eliminated or because they are shouldering the majority of the child care or home schooling responsibly. Perhaps what chilled me most of all, was reading that the number of women in the workplace today has dropped to 1980’s levels. This reality effectively wipes out forty years of progress that women have made towards economic equality.
The term being used is “shecession”. If you Google “shecession” the numbers are overwhelming: Chicago-based labor firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas released a report that found 2.1 million American women have left the job market since the onset of the pandemic. "That's 20% more than the number of men that have left over the same period," said Andy Challenger, Senior VP, Challenger, Gray and Christmas. “The risk of mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours will amount to $64.5 billion in lost wages in economic activity," said Cherita Ellens, President and CEO of Women Employed.
Once the shock of the numbers wears off, and the realization that the hard-fought, decades-long battle for equality in which progress was being made needs to be re-energized, we can start to look for solutions.
Many of the solutions being proposed, funded, and implemented are almost as depressing as the losses. Corporations and well-meaning brands are rushing to host virtual job fairs or offering interview training and resume writing workshops for women to get back into the job market. While taking action is great, these efforts have some gaping flaws. First, they feel a lot like corporate America trying to fix women again. If women were taught how to write a better resume, or how to be more appealing during a job interview we could mitigate the “shecession” impact. Not to mention that the jobs that many of these women have lost aren’t coming back. So, is the plan to gear women up to have flawlessly written resumes and great interview skills in the hope that they can use them, if traditional jobs ever come back?
What if alongside these well-meaning goals of fixing the women, or doing what has worked in the past, we add the option of meeting women where they are? Many women, as noted above, have left the workforce because of needing to take on home schooling and childcare. All of the interview prep in the world is not going to change that situation.
Women start businesses at almost twice the rate of men. Women own and operate more that 60% of small businesses, and 40% of those are Black women owned. One of the key reasons for this is that women tasked with managing children and home need the ability to define their own working hours and conditions.I would like to see a redirection of the energy, time and investment that currently is going into returning women to the workforce they left, into creating a new “normal”: a new normal that supports and FUNDS women to develop entrepreneurial skills to start their own businesses, grow their existing small business, or market their professional services. Including this type of support, in addition to helping them with traditional job search methods, is a winning strategy. The majority of jobs in the US are within small businesses, and the majority of those businesses are owned by women. Focusing efforts to support those jobs makes economic sense. Not every entrepreneurial business needs to be a unicorn. What if it simply supported a family, and created jobs? Small businesses account for almost 50% of jobs in the US. What if we invested in invigorating creativity and capital for women to redefine work in ways that actually work FOR them?